Friday, July 31, 2020

Discovering Scars & Chasing Racecars

I can't sleep. It's 4AM. Par for the course for me lately.
I saw my Dad for the first time in a year and a half yesterday. It felt good, I'm happy to see he's doing better. Mom's death obviously put a strain on our relationship, but still it wasn't like I meant for that much time to pass, it just did. I couldn't afford a road trip, then all hell broke loose around the world. I became convinced we'd be living out Mad Max by now and it just kinda happened. I was nervous about the visit, however. Probably because I'm at a pretty major crossroads in life.

Since about May or so I've gained the level of self awareness that many were annoyed I hadn't reached years ago. I've also been told it's nearing time that I should find my own place. I'll admit, I've been a pretty horrid roommate. I'm hard to understand, and harder to live with. I'm not mad about it, but I've been brought to the realization that I brought way too much pain with me upon moving here, and put way too much faith in the idea that it would all melt away as I began my life.
Truth be told, the opposite has happened. I've found myself often overwhelmed, consumed by a burning desire to rise above the trauma and reach even a third of my potential. Or at least the potential that others claim they see in me.
It forces me to neglect responsibility and instead cocoon myself in a pair of headphones and hope I find whatever I'm burning for in my 6,000th listen to Kanye West's "Runaway." Of course, that never happens.

My career in auto racing more or less legitimately began in May, and it's just about all that motivates me currently. I won't begin to lie and say that what I do is what I ever imagined myself doing, but I am more than proud to have weekly paystubs with the NHRA's name on them. In more ways than I can count, the feeling of working for them replicates that of my wrestling days when I was with Empire. The work is brutal, the pay won't make me rich, but I am reminded every day I enter the gates that I am in this exclusively for the love of the sport. If I couldn't hack it as a journalist, then by God I am willing to break my body and sacrifice my sanity to prove I belong somewhere in this industry, and that I love it with all my heart. My confidence, though. It just isn't there. I'm constantly job scared for no reason, and all the time doubting myself and whether I'll ever get where I want to be.

So yeah. About sacrificing my sanity. I spend a lot of time wishing I could makeup for my lack of kindness in the time after Mom died. I lie awake and quietly cry what is now becoming multiple times a week wishing I could reach out, often to 2 people in particular, and explain what I've since learned about how to treat others, and express my sorrow. But they're gone, and all I have now are the people in my life today.
And I don't believe I've been all that great to them either.

You're seeing a pattern here; My confidence is still just as wrecked as it was the day I woke up hungover 3 years ago and said I needed to change.

So yeah. I'm at a crossroads. I know that I'm on the right track (pun intended) towards making a career for myself in auto racing. However, if I'm ever going to reach that aforementioned potential, professional or personal, it is imperative I work more on healing my heart and soul than before. Because what I've been doing ain't working.

I have faith that things will improve. And I'm more than thankful that my love for what I do, and the incredible people in my life today are carrying me though a strange time.  I promise, I'll heal my heart and get things right soon enough.

Til then, I guess it's time to get some sleep.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Listen to The Pursuit NOW On TuneIn!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

"You Just Don't Know What Indy Means"

It's May 1st. Despite my best efforts, I have no date to the big dance. As a matter of fact, I don't even have a ticket to go alone if it comes down to it. It's funny, when you're 17 and you can't find a prom date, it only *feels* as if you're missing out on the biggest event in the world. But when that simile becomes reality, and you're missing out on genuinely the biggest event in the world, well, it's a sort of surreal, gut wrenching feeling that you feel half lucky to even get to experience, half flat out miserable for the same reason. My entire social circle in this city, all have business at IMS this raceday. As of now, I don't. Now, I could have one of two attitudes about this. I could stay pissed off and depressed, moping about for the next month, which serves nobody but me. Or I can embrace this feeling. You see, I've been following The 500 long enough to know that much like a dignified lady down south, The Speedway can be cruel and unforgiving just as much as it can rewarding and loving. You have to be patient, respectful, and above all humble. Yes, I know nobody looks at the story of how a media member got to The 500. And why should they? We aren't the stars. But the same principles apply, whether you're competing for a chance to kiss the bricks, or whether you're competing for a slightly better paying job interviewing the driver that finishes in 12th. I've seen enough unrequited passion and heartbreak surrounding The 500 to know that sometimes a person's love for this place can be agonizingly one sided. But this event has become a major part of my life, the personification of my American dream. As weird as it sounds, I cannot imagine my life taking any path different to the one that has led me so close, yet so far away from finally making my own small mark. It was 1999, the first time I vividly remember watching The 500. My Dad and I were both cheering on Robby Gordon, half because we knew him from driving stock cars for Felix Sabates, half because he had a hell of a run going. Four year old me didn't know what the split was, didn't care that this period was one many considered a dark age for The 500. All I knew was that this was the biggest event in the world, and the guy I picked to win was knocking on the door. Then my Dad yelled out, "Aw, son of a bitch!" Robby had to stop for fuel. He surrendered the race to Kenny Brack. Brack won. As the kids today say, I was shook. Flash forward to 2002. My Grandmother, Marylin, had lost her battle with cancer just 3 weeks prior. When you're 7 years old and you lose a close relative, you don't understand the emotions you're feeling. I remember it was a very somber day, but for some reason The 500 broadcast was an escape for my parents and I. If only for a few hours, we forgot our troubles. The controversial finish inspired a more innocent household argument than in months prior. De Ferran, Rice, Wheldon, Hornish, and Franchitti would reign supreme in subsequent years. I watched,some years more interested than others. It happens as you grow up. But then 2008 came. The Split was over and DanicaMania was running just as wild as 3 years prior. She was hot off her win in Japan and was hot off the shelves in Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue. My friends, especially the boys, were crazy for her. So much so that I had a pocket of about a dozen 7th grade nerds invested in the run up to The 500. It was the first time I had experienced the social element of Indy, discovering that this race is one big, month long excuse to party. But in the race, Sarah Fisher tangled with Tony Kanaan. I was a big TK fan as a kid, going back to his days in CART. So I was mad that my driver was taken out. ABC took an interview with Sarah after the crash that reduced me to a blubbering mess. Still to this day, it's hard to watch. And that's when it hit me, just how important this race is to all who play a part. 2011. I'm 16, a kid who has no sense of identity. We were on a family vacation and I convinced my Mom to drop me off at The 500. I had a GA ticket in my hand and nothing else. For the first time, I could feel it. The overwhelming sense of passion, pure joy, and celebration. When Jim Nabors sang "Back Home Again," tears filled my eyes. This was Indy. I knew from that moment I had to some day be part of the magic. 2015 Comes, and I'm 20 years old. I had been to back to back races, Barber and the Indy GP. Being at IMS always has an almost religious, cathredal feeling to it, but this May was different. My Mom was sick, and doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong. She spent most of May in the hospital, and the GP trip became more about that 2002-esque escape. I remember, on the drive back somehow my Dad and I got to discussing Patrick Swayze. I remember having the passing theory that Mom had pancreatic cancer too. Weekend of The 500 comes, and the race is almost an afterthought. While I still had that "Christmas morning" feeling, it felt empty. Dad and I still enjoyed the race, even if we both awkwardly avoided talking about the elephant in the room. It was the last happy day I'd have for a long time. A few Days later, we got the news. My fleeting guess was right. Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. A year goes by. Mom left us in March. My heart is shattered. It is zero exaggeration when I say wanting to see the 100th running is what kept me going. For some silly reason, I was fixated on this race. It felt like, for both my Dad and I, that doing this thing that we had done every year for 20+ years would make life feel "normal" again, even if just for a day. Thankfully it was just the two of us at home, and we put on the race as we had every season, neither admitting out loud the added gravity that this day held. So we enjoyed the race, waxing nostalgic for years when it wasn't just us. We talked racing, our favorite memories and stories from 500s past. It was cathartic. It was healing. It didn't matter who won that day, even though a star was born. What mattered was we did as Mom would have wanted and just enjoyed the race. When the day was over, I cried. Hell, I'm tearing up now just thinking about it. On that day, it wasn't just a race. It was passion, it was family, it was love. I had never experienced tears of joy before, but the notion that it was now okay to try moving on moved me. 2017 Comes, I'm now 22. I'm on the heels of a failed relationship that has me in another identity crisis, and I've just a month prior covered my first IndyCar race as a journalist. I didn't know yet, but this period would transform my life. At this point, I'm a heavy drinker and very much still very much grieving over my Mom. The two are related. I convinced my Dad to go. The race fell on the same date of Mom's diagnosis 2 years prior. I didn't want him to dwell on it. If I were able to bottle up how I felt that day, my thirst for life would be unquenchable. The interaction between my Dad and I, it was like I was his small child again. It didn't matter that I was 22, the look on his face watching me was like that of a parent watching their 6 year old at Disney World. The fact we were able to laugh and experience so much joy on a date laced with so much pain made me feel invincible. A year later, my brother and his wife joined the fun. Now I can say the whole family, even Mom watching with us at home so many years, has felt the magic of Indy. I'm 24 now. I wouldn't exactly say I feel like an adult, but every May I feel like a kid again. The sport of IndyCar racing has transformed my life. The friends I have made gave me a renewed sense of purpose on the other side of tragedy. They gave me motivation to move to Indianapolis, they inspire me to better myself, professionally and personally. My love for the Indy 500 pulled me through my most morose, and led me to the people in my life who have brought out the very best in me. In July, I'll be one year alcohol free, it seems I'm dipping my toes into my first relationship of my 20s, and overall I've learned to embrace and love who I am thanks to it all. Yeah, racecars are pretty and the stories going in can be riveting. But to me, The Indianapolis 500 Mile Race is a celebration of life, it's the celebration of the ties that forge an unbreakable bond between friends and family. Indeed it is "A human struggle against all odds," as Paul Page once said. It brings strangers together, it brings family closer. It was Al Unser Jr. in 1992 who said "You just don't know what Indy means," and he's right. It means something different to winners as to losers, fans to drivers, media to mechanics. To me, individually, after all it's done for me, Indy is life. It's hard to be humble when you love something so much that you just want to dive in and make your mark. I've worked very hard, both in cleaning my life up, and in my media career. I feel like I'm ready. To find out maybe I'm not, well it sucks. It's hard for me to think about sitting on the sidelines this year, watching probably on the mound in turn 2 like I did 8 years ago. But if it means that one day, I'll be rewarded, that I'll get to reciprocate the love I have for IMS, I can do it. I guess, until I get there I'll just have a little extra fun along the way.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Pursuit: Debut Edition

The first episode of my podcast (all apologies to Bob Varsha, who was on what ended up being a test episode last year) is with my former local TV cohost Bill Bolen.
It's more of a "getting to know you" type episode for you, the listener, to get to hear a bit of my personality come through.
I hope you enjoy it.

The Pursuit: Bill Bolen (Soundcloud link)

Saturday, December 29, 2018

2018 In 5 (Non-Racing) Photos

Another year has come to a close. For better, but more often worse, 2018 was a busy year for me.
My attempts to advance my career in media are well documented, both here and on Twitter, so I instead chose for my photo essay to sum up 2018 a more personal collection of pictures.
(A piece with some racing related photos will appear tomorrow.)

So instead, enjoy the 5 most important photos of my 2018, in order.

1. In March, I purchased a car that wasn't exactly a dream car, but definitely the most fun car I've ever driven, my 1993 Miata. It's cheap on gas and fun as hell with the top down. I had wanted a Miata since I was 8 and started out with one in GranTurismo 3.

2. In Late July,  while my friends were all in Ohio for the IndyCar race that sucked to have to miss, I was reviving my alter ego, Lucas Lazarus after a 15 month hiatus from wrestling. It was supposed to be the start of a run at EWA in Chattanooga, but things just weren't meant to be.
In this photo I'm giving myself the "I'm a Star" speech from Boogie Nights.

3. Early October. Sometimes in life you make friends with someone who changes your life, someone who actually makes you want to be happy. I've been fortunate to meet many friends like that in the last 2 years. My friend Derrick (Still don't know his last name) came into my life in May, and he's been a constant source of inspiration and support since.
Here he is, me following him through the streets of Chattanooga at about 3AM.

4. Late October. My first published piece in the college newspaper. It would end up being my only published feature. The excitement of seeing my work in print on my birthday was divine. Even if the headline wasn't the one I had written.
To get to redeem myself for my poor quality of work 2 years prior was the best feeling in the world.

5. December. The end of the road. The last few weeks of my last semester, I had resigned from any and all social activity between classes to instead walk the lake behind the college. It was tranquil, the closest thing I've had to therapy in 8 years. This photo was taken on the final day of the semester. What an emotional rollercoaster it was.

So that's it. 5 Of the most important photos of 2018.
2019 Promises a new life, a new world of sorts. Let's see where it takes me.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A Happy Ending (For Once)

It's 5:40 AM on a Wednesday. I have work soon, but I've been awake for 22 hours now with no sign of stopping. I'm wired. I'm talking, y'know, the kind of wired where you're so tired you just wanna keep going until you crash harder than J.R. Hildebrand on the last lap at Indy. (What? Too cheap?)

I must apologize for not updating this blog much this year. As much as I wanted 2018 to be defined by my pursuit of a career in racing media, twists and turns took me to places I never imagined, and thus, this website took a backseat.

Anyway, I'm also happy, coupled with being wired. Sure, I failed history class and I got shot down in asking for a date earlier in the night, but I'm still happy. After all, I'm curled up in my finest sweatpants, listening to my favorite podcast (83 Weeks). I've made it through another year, almost. 2018 is drawing to a close and I can't help but be reflective.

The year started with me alone, babysitting my friend's cats with nothing but a futon, a Hawaiian pizza, and a space heater in the room with me. I didn't even know midnight had passed until 6 minutes into the new year. I fell asleep 20 minutes later and began my 2018 at about 4 in the afternoon.
I was staying at a friend's house, having just quit my job after a lonely, dreadful holiday season. I had no idea what would be next. All I really cared about was fixing things with my Dad and getting away from drinking as much as I could.

The plan was to hit St. Pete in March, try to work the IndyCar date as independent media like I sometimes do. However, I ended up being unemployed for almost 3 months. Here's where the hellride began.

I found myself working 2 jobs in March. You see, moving back home to Chattanooga crushed me. I had moved to Dayton, OH the previous summer to run from the embarassment of my handling of Mom's death and a failed relationship. I thought I was free, but home came calling. My goal was to move to Indianapolis to not only be closer to the racing business, but to be around friends in the midwest who inspire me. It's good to have positive influences, after all.

So I worked away, worked my ass off to be honest. The local zoo by day, janky hotel by night. (And boy do I mean janky) The hotel job ended after almost being assaulted by an unwanted guest in the lobby. Wanting to get the hell out after that and the denied request off for The 500, I lied, told them I was already moving to Indy when I was just making my annual Memorial Day visit. I'll do anything just to go to The 500. Sorry, Christina.

After attending The 500, this time with the entire Caylor family, I stayed with my Dad who was on assignment in Kentucky for 3 weeks. I had a few job interviews in Indy, and it looked like I'd be a Hoosier in no time. But the opportunities fell through. My last gasp was an interview at a Toyota dealer in Avon. I felt I had the job in the bag, at least until they asked if I had any speeding tickets.
It wasn't all bad, though. I got to hit a few bars with my friend Chris and feel the freedom of blasting down I75 in Ohio with rain pouring while "I Miss You" by Blink-182 blares over my '93 Miata factory speakers.

By the time summer came, I was miserable. While my management at the zoo are some of the kindest people you could work for, the low pay and painfully long, hot days meant I was confined to a fryer 6 days a week while the world passed me by. I never heard or even knew what the #1 song this year was. if I had to guess I'd say it's that "Keke, do ya love me..." song. But I haven't actually heard it.

Late July came and I was gutted. I missed the race at Mid-Ohio after a summer of financial setbacks .(Funding race trips is tough yo)
It was a beneficial experience last year and I was looking forward to it, but it wasn't meant to be. My friend Pat told me, "There will be other races," and I sure hope so.

What did work out was my return to college. I had dropped out in 2017, in equal parts due to my aforementioned Mother's death  and failed relationship, which were the 2 contributing factors to my obscene alcohol problem. Simply put, I got too drunk and too weepy, and with no Mother to cry to, I called the wrong person and poured my heart out. Drinkin's bad, kids.
The ensuing fight (we're close friends now so it's okay) left me so humiliated and hurt that a quasi-intervention from my English professor made me realize I should try getting help before ruining my GPA. (That incident, by the way, is the sole reason I'm doing things like this blog or anything in racing. Blessing in disguise.)

So I came back, a little heavier and sans afro, but a whole lot more confident. I had my final drink on August 17 and haven't looked back.
I'll be honest, I've been pretty well distracted from racing this semester. I know who all the Champions are and whatnot, but finding out how they got there will keep me busy this offseason.

The semester went well, I suppose. I got a few pieces published in the college newspaper, and I was veey happy to redeem myself for the poor work I had done there at the height of my drinking problem. The highlight of the semester would have to be when my math professor showed me my grades and said, "You'll probably finish with a C."
So I studied harder than I have in my life to bring my grade up. I made up every spare point that I could, did my homework twice over to make sure I "got it." I left the final knowing I'd done everything I could. I just hoped it was good enough.
On the final, he botched a problem and gave us no correct option for the answer. For our trouble, he gave us all that one for free. The one point from that free problem, that I KNOW I'd have missed, was enough to bump me to a B.
Ugh, What A Rush.

But now, it's almost over. Christmas is looming and for the first time in years, I'm okay. I'm better now. You'll see what I mean. I'm happy with life as it unfolded this year, and with what's on the horizon for next year.
In 2 month's time, I'll be in Indianapolis. One of the best friends I could have is bringing me to town and I can't wait to share those stories with you.
So yeah, it's a happy ending, for once.

As far as this website goes, I'm turning into a mix. Some personal/photography stuff. But still mostly racing, when I can.

But what have I learned this year?
The biggest thing I've learned is that "Better" isn't akin to "Happily Ever After." It isn't a destination. I foolishly believed I'd have some big Don Draper moment of clarity, when in reality, I'm just slowly becoming comfortable in my new skin.
"Better" is a series of improvements and challenges that never ends. But it can strengthen you, as long as you take the challenge of improvement head on.
You can always do Better. So Be Better.

Or to steal from Jeff Krosnoff, Stay Hungry.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year, everyone. Thanks for your support.

Monday, May 7, 2018

"With A Little Help From My Friends..." (Barber 2018)

As long as I've been going to IndyCar races, as a fan and as media, each trip has had its own song, that 4 minute or so anthem that encapsulates the emotion and motions of the trip. They're often random and wildly differing from genre to genre ("What The Hell" by Avril Lavigne for Barber in 2011, "Heart Of Glass" by Blondie for any year at Indy since 2011, "Ball & Chain" by Social Distortion for Mid-Ohio '17, to name a few), but as time passes they go on to mean something special. It doesn't take long to figure out I'm a very sentimental person, so as my most recent trip approached I couldn't help but ponder what the standout would be to define my 2nd year as media at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
But as luck would have it, the question was answered before I even packed my bags.

To explain, let me back up. After Mid-Ohio last year, I was told I was invited back for Barber in April. So I spent the entire offseason and then some preparing for the trip. I bought new production equipment, relearned Adobe Premiere, studied up on my Road To Indy facts by reading every article on Racer, bought a domain (, designed new business cards, bought new prescription sunglasses, and even got a second job to pay for the trip.
But every force in the universe tried to keep me out of Alabama. Both jobs scheduled me to work, finances weren't as strong as I had thought they'd be, and worst of all, my media credential request for the race got declined. All that preparation, 9 months of planning gone down the drain, right?
Not as much as I believed.

Last year at Barber, I knew nobody. The only contact I had with anyone in the business was with Bob Varsha through DM on Twitter. (my fictional wrestling character's account, by the by.) But he put me in touch with Mike Kitchel, who introduced me to his staff. From there, I met Pat Caporali, with whom I became friends.
Pat actually saved me from what I believe would have been throwing/smoking my life away in a bone headed attempt to run from my problems and move to Colorado last summer. If not for a message she sent showing support for my media career that I read in downtown Chicago on my way to Denver, I'd likely have gone through with the move. Pat's a supportive person and a hell of a role model, needless to say I treasure our friendship and often look to her for help in various ways. This one happened to be professional.
Dejected at being declined, I messaged Pat and explained my situation. "Let me see if I can help," she said. Two days later, I received an email saying I was in after all. Great! But now how do I get the weekend off?
Thankfully, my restaurant job rescheduled me to have the entire weekend off. My hotel job, however, took some putting my foot down. I pulled the Hulk Hogan, "That won't work for me, brother," and was given the weekend off-at the expense of losing 21 hours as what I assume was punishment.

With a few days to go until the trip, things got even better as I bought one of my dream cars; a 1993 Mazda Miata. Ya know, the car you can start with in GranTurismo 3? I've wanted one since I was 8, and now I get to drive it to Barber.

Thursday morning came, and with it waves of excitement. I shot down I59 blaring a playlist featuring everything from Wyclef Jean to Metallica to Abba before settling upon the closest thing Alabama will ever get to paradise, the Whataburger in Trussville. I don't know why I'm so in love with Corpus-Christi's finest export since The Labonte Brothers, but that What-A-Chicken sandwich was heaven.

I finally reached the hotel on Rex Lake where you pick up your media credentials aaaaaand....
"Yeah hon, you're on my declined list. Sorry."
It took ten minutes for me to explain, name drop, and finally show email proof that my status had changed. It obviously inconvenienced the staff to have to go through this ordeal and add my name to the accepted list. But I got my media and parking passes! Time to head across the street and check things out!
Orrrrrrr not. My Miata wouldn't start. Damn.

I called another friend, occasional IndyCar dotcom writer Chris DeHarde, who was an hour away and had cables to boost me off. Chris is a damn good friend, helped me get my confidence up enough to stay on top of preparations for the trip. Throughout the weekend, he would introduce me to a rolodex of media members who may otherwise not have given me the time of day. I've never met someone so passionate about racing, nor so eager to help his friends like me find opportunities.
I didn't need the boost, that day anyway, so Chris and I went to the Barber Vintage Museum, which if you haven't been, is perhaps the most impressive motorsports museum south of IMS

My hotel experience was subpar to say the least. What was once a stellar place to stay just 3 years ago had now become an extended stay hotel, with rates cheap enough for constant loud parties, even on a Thursday. My bed had no linens, the microwave beeped uncontrollably. I complained to the front desk, and they moved me...To an already occupied room. When it was all settled, I got about 5 hours of sleep.

Friday morning came and it became apparent I was NOT going to shake the rust from having not produced anything in 9 months, racing or not. It doesn't help having spent the last year soul searching, struggling to find my voice as both an entertainer and a member of racing media, as well as beating myself up over lost love. Life got in the way of my dreams and I wasn't yet out of the fog.
I may have lost my groove, but I was determined to enjoy myself and do my best with what I had.
I had a more formal meeting with Pat, thanked her for bringing me in, and went to shoot video in the paddock. It was a gorgeous morning, albeit a bit cold, but the fans were out in full force and so was I, running from end to end in the paddock/pit lane, hitching rides all around the track.

I caught up with another pal, one who is always making sure I Stay Hungry and look for work. We met last year during pit practice at Barber and stay in frequent touch. But seeing Robin Miller felt much better than just seeing a famous confidant who believes in my work. After losing my Mom in 2016, "Cancer" is probably the most heartbreaking and terrifying word in the English language for me . Robin kicked cancer's ass and I couldn't have been happier to see him and give him a big hug. He's been a hero of mine since I was in 5th grade watching WindTunnel and realized some people can grow up to be blunt and unapologetically opinionated about racing on TV. He asked if I was finding work and suggested I hit up the folks at IndyCar about some production work, which I didn't exactly do thanks to the whole "losing my groove" thing. Sorry, Robin...

I shot some more B-Roll, walked the paddock (Where I learned autographed breasts are a real thing outside of Happy Gilmore, and the woman was just as old. You're welcome.), and decided to call it a day at 5PM. My Miata wouldn't start again, so Chris boosted me off and I decided to have a lonely man's dinner at Pizza Hut to end my night.

Saturday brought gorgeous skies and a record crowd of over 34,000 for Pole Day. From my media experiences, Pole Day is the most exciting part of the weekend. The prelim series run their major races (The MX-5 race was fantastic, and I'm not just saying that because I own a Miata), and teams scramble to give their driver the fastest single lap they can. It's a whirlwind of activity that takes immense focus to cover, but I was able to do have some peace and quiet, and to do some Blair Witch style 'splorin' in the woods, where I saw the best of Barber's quirks on display.

Qualifying came, and lo and behold, Josef Newgarden won the P1 Award. Josef won both races I covered last year, and now the defending Champ was well on his way to making it 3 for 3. Huh.

Colby Redmond from IndyCar helped me navigate the post qualifying media frenzy and trophy presentation, but she couldn't stop the #1 team from nearly running me over with their car on their way back to the paddock. Colby is great, though. Very kind and obviously loves to help those in need of it like me.

Chris and some of his colleagues invited me out to Rusty's BBQ in Leeds. I don't play around when it comes to BBQ and I was skeptical, but AJ Foyt was eating there when I pulled up, and if it's good enough for AJ then it must be good Q. Sho 'nuf it was probably the best BBQ that isn't from Bailey's in Ringgold, GA. Check it out if you're ever in the area.

Sunday came and the weather was flat out gross. Spittling rain when I woke up (don't you love that word? Spittle?), Pouring rain as the morning progressed, it never got any better. I lost sleep the night before, so I was exhausted. Most of my morning was spent watching Channing Tatum's police escort prepare to bring him into the press trailer as I was afraid of letting rain damage my camera. Riveting, right?

The rain let up, so I took a nap in the woods during Indy Lights. Then came time for the race, and man, was it soupy.
Normally I watch the start of an IndyCar race from the vantage point of a fan before going back to the media center to wait to shoot victory lane. But on this day I took refuge in the media center from the storm. It was a downpour, a deluge, easily the nastiest raceday weather I've ever experienced.

Unsurprisingly, the GP of Alabama was washed out until Monday, and THAT's when the real fun began. Everyone began to scramble to book a hotel for the night, and thankfully my fingers were fast enough to land a night at the nearby Hilton Garden Inn.
I was skeptical about my hotel choice after staying at the Sonesta the 3 nights prior, but when I walked in and saw the entire on air staff for NBC in the lobby (looking quite pissed as if there was a problem getting them another night), I knew I made the right choice.
After some succulent Chinese takeout, and $117 I hadn't planned to spend, rest for the busy Monday lay ahead.

Monday was stressful. I mean, stressful. It was cold and wet to start, and I was desperate for my car to start without flooding the hell outta the thing. Buuut she started right up, and I made the short drive to Barber. To enter the course with virtually no staff on hand was downright eerie. It felt lifeless, yet vibrant at the same time. Imagine The Wizard Of Oz, unrestored, on early era VHS, with all the colors muted and the sound subdued. That's what it felt like.
I was pointed to Lot C by a staff member, despite me showing him the email confirming media being allowed to park in the paddock. (Seriously, this HAS to improve next year. Knowing the rules and being debated on it only wastes everyone's time.)
So I parked in the swamp, walked my equipment to the media center, aaaaaaand then found out I could, in fact, bring my car to the paddock. Lovely.

After sorting that out, it was time to resume the race. I watched the first 30 laps or so of the resumption from the Alabama Rollercoaster section of the course.
After a bit more exploring, I decided to setup in victory lane, where things got a little tense with one of the photographers.
"Hey, who are you? You need a vest."
"I was told I didn't need one."
"Yeah right! By who? Who are you?"
I was in a panic, feeling like a child suspected of wrongdoing by a teacher that has never met you.
"P...PatCaporaliFromIndyCar!" I blurted, sounding like one word. Thankfully, that one word was enough.
"Good answer," he said, and backed away.

Rain was pouring by this point, and I faced a delimma: Pack up and go home with no footage of victory lane, OR shoot until the camera I can't afford to replace shorts out. After failing in every way possible to shield my camera from the pourage (is that a real word? Because I like it.), I decided to risk it and shoot.
I didn't get *as* good of shots as last year, but the shots were sufficient.
Josef Newgarden took home the checkers, sweeping all 3 races I've been media at in the process. Either I'm some kinda good luck charm, or he's just that damn good. Probably the latter.

After the brief press conference, business was ready to wrap up, and my boring life as a hack comedian/hotel night auditor was ready to resume.
As I sat in the media center, soaking in the final sights and sounds, I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed in how my weekend had gone.
I hadn't really made an impact, hadn't made as much of a networking opportunity as I had the year before, nor at Mid-Ohio.
It all just felt flat.

I made my rounds, gave my goodbye hugs,  hopped in the Miata, and drove back to Whataburger. While enjoying my meal, I got a message from Pat. It was a personal message, nothing to do with racing or work. It was a friend reaching out to a friend out of concern and encouragement. I began to think about what she said, how I'm considered part of the community, how "my time is coming." I began to think about how Robin implied I'm good enough for better work, how Chris was putting me over to everyone in sight, not only professionally but personally.
It hit me then as hard as it does while writing this: As much as I wanted the weekend to be about inching toward professional success, the powers that be had different intentions.
My soul has needed healing in the last year or more, and above all else, what I truly needed was a uniquely human experience; to be around positive people who not only want to see me succeed, but don't mind giving me a push along the way.

It's been almost 3 weeks since the race weekend, and I've only barely looked at what I shot. But it wasn't about that. I'll make something of the video soon, I'm not worried. It was about needing to be where I belong. To feel a sense of community I haven't felt since I worked in pro wrestling.

As I pulled out of Whataburger's downhill slope of a parking lot, the song of the weekend came up in my driving playlist.
"What would ya doooooo if I sang, outta tuuuune?," the voice of Joe Cocker belted over my overmodulated speakers.

As I turned onto I59 towards Chattanooga, I realized the story of the weekend matched the song's title. I Got By With A Little Help From My Friends.
And my, how special that was.